Friday, October 15, 2010

Pictures or words

This is weird. The New York Times wrote up a piece about picture books - the recent trend where kids start with chapter books earlier and seem to forsake new and shiny picture books. It's weird for a few reasons. First is the impression I get from the article that there are experts who think that picture books are good for children's development. Uh... yeah. Then there's the idea that it's a bad thing to have kids reading chapter books at earlier ages. It's mentioned, as if in passing, and is sadly what I take away from an otherwise interesting article. So, a few thoughts.

To begin with, I think it's great that the incredibly high prices of hardcover picture books is mentioned. I remember sometime when I was in second grade and already hooked onto chapter books, there was some picture book that looked really nice. I remember picking it up, flipping through its glossy, lovely pages and then - oh, $20. Um. No. Children's books are gorgeously made, all shine and gloss but the price tag scares off so many kids and parents that just don't see the point. Not in the book, but in owning it. Besides, libraries always wrap them up in that awesomely crunching plastic.

I also find the notion that there's something wrong with declining sales to be most fascinating. The article points to the fact that classics are still bestsellers - books like Dr Seuss, and others of that ilk. Maybe - and I find this more plausible and worthy of separate discussion as I think of it - parents prefer buying their young children the books they themselves know and love from childhood. If I had to buy kids books today with no prior knowledge, I would be wary of new releases mostly because I'm fairly wary of just about everything publishers give me these days. That and the recent fad of having too much message in kids books. Or too little. Or just having lame kids books. But it's been a while, so I'm sure I'm missing out on a lot of great books. Isn't the fact that I'm wary like this, though, an indication of what parents might be thinking? Could low sales just be due to consumers preferring what they already know?

As for kids reading chapter books earlier, I gave up the picture book almost entirely by the end of first grade. Not everyone in my class was like that, but the avid readers among us wanted to move upwards to chapter books as soon as possible because it was more challenging, and more to the point - more suited to what we wanted. "The Magic Tree House" series was perfect because it had everything I could ever imagine - books, history, adventures, knowledge, science, mysteries and more. I learned so much with small books that made me feel like I was swallowing up large tomes, like were always shown in the occasional pictures scattered throughout the books. Reading chapter books was reading independently - reading picture books is to this day associated in my mind with early childhood, learning to read, and bedtime stories.

Picture books aren't going out of fashion and there's absolutely nothing wrong with encouraging kids to read independently at younger ages. I think there's some bad marketing going on, that prices are too high, and that parents are taking it safe. Parents shouldn't push their kids to chapter books before they can actually read, but it's definitely an important step and second grade is exactly the time to make it.

4 comments:

  1. I also saw this article and thought it a little strange...I wanted to know more about the trend. I don't believe only prices would influence so many parents, are they being taught that chapter books are better? Having a little one myself now, we read a ton together, but she's only 1 so our book options are limited to her ability to focus. But I'm curious about how quickly we'll move to chapter books...I don't feel the need to rush her. Strange.

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  2. I have never stopped loving picture books, but I have definitely stopped buying them because the prices are insane! It has nothing to do with how good they are. I only wish they were more affordable at least for libraries - I can imagine the damage they also do to library budgets!

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  3. As an adult who has worked in an elementary school with older students (5th grade), they STILL love picture books. I still love picture books. Yes, it is ridiculous how much picture books cost, but reading isn't just about challenging your skills as a reader, it's also about enjoying the story. Sometimes pictures are part of that. I also think that pictures make a book easier to share and read with somebody, even if you both have reading skills above that of the text.

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  4. I know at least one parent like those described- she wanted her daughter to be a high achiever so badly, and so early, that she weaned her off of picture books before the girl was even old enough to appreciate them- kindergarten! That's going too far. I think (and know from working with kids in a library) that kids up to about third or fourth grade can read and enjoy well-written picture books. after that they do get to be a little like, well these are for LITTLE kids and I want the big-kid books. But they still read the picture books when they thought no one was looking.

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